BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
David L. Stone, Esq., of Independence Township is up for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award, after being named a finalist in the Michigan-Northwest Ohio region.
“It’s an honor,” said Stone, president and co-founder of the HR-administration company Trion Solutions. “There are a lot of great entrepreneurs out there, so I’m excited about it. But I’m more excited about what we do on a daily basis. I’m proud of what we’re building. It always amazes me, where we are compared to where we were when we first came together, with my partner. We probably had 10 employees. Now they see us at 100 employees and their families. We’ve grown up with these people, we’ve seen their success stories and their kids grow up. It’s a great environment. That’s what’s really exciting.”
He was born and raised in Michigan, growing up in Detroit and Oak Park. His drive to succeed comes from his family, he said.
“I think parents want their kids to do better than them and drive them, and I think the drive started there,” he said. “Early on, I had an aunt who practiced law (Sorenia M. Whittington, who still runs a law office in Southfield). When I was in high school, I knew that was something I wanted to go into. So at that point, I was focused.”
He graduated from Oak Park High School and earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Corporate Finance from Western Michigan University, for which he is a long-time WMU Alumni Association Admission Ambassador.
“I had some good teachers at that time,” he said. “I had a law class, and it really spiked my interest.”
He earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, at which he has served as a Mercy Law Moot Court Moderator. He is a member of the State Bar of Michigan.
He worked in the controllers division at Blue Cross as an intern while earning his law degree at night.
“I must have made some good impressions with people because during the time I was in law school, an opportunity came up in the litigation department,” he said. “They said, ‘Hey, we understand you’re going to law school, there’s a position opening up in the legal department as a paralegal, working with a group of attorneys. And would you be interested?’ Of course I was, so I took advantage of that opportunity.”
Family, school, and work relationships formed the foundation of his work ethic.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college. I come from a hard working blue collar family,” he said.
His early work experience gave him access and a view from a corporate standpoint of the inner workings of business at a very high level.
“And from some very smart people, a lot smarter than I was at that time. I was a sponge,” he added.
By 1996, he had been at Blue Cross for about six years in various capacities in the controllers division and litigation department when he got a call from a colleague who had departed to found an HR outsourcing business.
“He said, ‘I’m going to set up the legal department at this place, why don’t you come over.’ So finally I did that, and I worked as an attorney doing contract work and things like that. But it gave me a new experience in the professional employer space in what, at the time, they called employee leasing,” he said. “I said, what they’re doing, it wasn’t a hard model to figure out. I could do this, and I could be really good at it.”
After a few years, he tried his hand at founding his own company. About eight years later he founded Trion Solutions with business partner Bonner Upshaw III.
“We had been friendly competitors for a while,” Stone said. “We said, at some point, we should probably get this thing together. Then, in about 2012, the industry began to change from a regulatory standpoint. They were imposing new regulatory compliance in Michigan with regard to professional employer organizations. We got together and said, this seems like a perfect time, maybe we can join our companies together, and maybe we can look to roll up some other companies underneath. So in 2012, we got together and put a team together.”
The name of the company comes from the relationships between themselves, client company, and employee.
“You see a triangular relationship,” he said. “We rolled out in 2013 and we haven’t looked back since.”
Their job is to help small to mid sized business grow.
“We help them become better at what they do, so they can be the best widget maker or whatever. Because they now can focus on their core business. They don’t have to worry about payroll, HR benefits, things like that, things we’re an expert in,” he said.
Trion, a certified minority-owned corporation and the largest privately-owned Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) in the state of Michigan, works with hundreds of client businesses throughout the nation to manage payroll and taxes, benefits administration, workers’ compensation and regulatory compliance.
Stone has lived in the Clarkston area since 2007 with his wife Ann, raising their two children Justin, a student at Notre Dame Prep, and Erin, graduate of the University of Michigan and student at dental school in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’m blessed with a great family. I like what I do, I try to make a difference and things like that,” he said. “I tell my kids, just be the best at what you do. I tell my son, if you have an exam and you come home and you tell me, I did the best I could do, I studied hard and I came up a little bit short, I’m okay with that. I’m not okay with it, if you didn’t work hard. If you didn’t plan and then you have a bad result, you deserve that poor result. But let’s see how we can change that environment. Let’s see how we can fix that.”
In addition to Trion’s corporate headquarters in Troy, Mich., the company has additional offices in Traverse City, Mich., Aventura, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz. More information about Trion Solutions can be found at www.relyontrion.com. Stone also supports many non-profit organizations that focus on mental health, education, literacy, autism and helping those with disabilities.
“You lead a funny path on life,” he said. “When people ask if you could go back, would you have changed things? Would you have done things differently? You know, I look back and I think I probably would have to answer, no, only because I don’t know if I’d be where I am now if I were to change those things in life.”
He and other nominees will be honored at a special gala on Tuesday, June 18, at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“As an entrepreneur, by definition, you take some personal and financial risk, and I certainly had to do that,” he said. “That comes with sleepless nights and different things like that. But you know what, that’s a trade off, being an entrepreneur. I think you have to have that driven spirit in you to do it. It’s not for everyone.”
BY PHIL CUSTODIO